On Monday, Oct. 26th, I sat at Heathrow Airport waiting for my connecting flight to Aleppo, Syria and, hoping for a semblance of normalcy, worked on the NY Times crossword puzzle. My brain was filled with lumpy cotton after a night of flying and the shock of hearing that my 92 year old father had suffered a serious brain hemorrhage and lapsed into a deep coma. As I plodded through the easiest puzzle of the week, I saw a clue for COMA and thought: What a strange coincidence! My next thought was to post a comment about this happenstance on Rex's blog . I didn't stop to process whether it was appropriate to do so... in my addled state, my comment simply passed the central posting criterion--relevance to the puzzle!
I truly did not expect the response I got. By the time I boarded the next plane, Rex himself had sent me a personal e-mail expressing his support and several of the Rexites had included words of support in their posts. When I arrived in Aleppo, I was no longer able to see the blog-- as far as I can tell, all of Blogger is blocked in Syria. But several friends from Rex' blog communicated with me by e-mail with good wishes. And the wonderful Andrea wrote to tell me that there were many comments on the blog expressing support!
During the ensuing week, as my dad lay comatose, I struggled to no avail with the medical system, trying to explain that my father had a living will in the US, and had requested to be allowed to die naturally should he be hit by a catastrophic illness. This was deemed inhumane... and with several tubes inserted into him, my father eventually awoke, paralyzed and unable to communicate except for an occasional word. And in spite of some motor improvements, he remained in this highly debilitated state two weeks later, as I embarked on my journey home to the US.
As I fight sadness, deep anxiety about his suffering and an overwhelming sense of helplessness about the entire experience, there are two forces that give me solace-- abundant evidence of the great love and respect in which my father is held, and the amazing support I received, not only from family and old friends, but from my newly found community of friends from Rexville!
Throughout my absence, several members of that community commented on Rex's blog, left a comment on my blog, sent me e-mails or sent a note via Andrea. I will not name names, lest I forget someone, but I am so immeasurably grateful to everyone! And Andrea-- what a first class human being she is! She wrote repeatedly and managed to be supportive and entertaining at once-- in the midst of my mess, she made me smile and even laugh on several occasions!
One evening, during a gathering with various cousins and other relatives in Aleppo, I tried to explain about Rexville. My relatives were amazed. The younger ones are familiar with Facebook and Twitter, so at least they understood the idea of a web-based community, but the older ones were greatly confused! " You mean you've never met these people in person?"... Well, no, except for Andrea... "Oh, so she's your friend and introduced you to these people who are her friends?"... Well, she is my friend, but I met her through the blog as well... "And you mostly discuss the puzzle? What do you find to discuss?"... You'd be surprised!... "And they're all just being nice to you, just to be nice?"... Well, yes, they're a wonderful bunch of people!... "Americans are amazing!"
I never take for granted the community that Rex has created-- I find it fascinating. But my efforts at depicting it to my relatives highlighted for me what a truly remarkable phenomenon it represents. It was hard to explain how, starting from the shared experience of solving a given puzzle and then reading Rex's thoughts about it, emerged a mesh of interconnections, an intellectual and social bond amongst virtual strangers. A bond that seems so ephemeral and yet managed to reach me half way around the world, and lift my spirits in one of my darkest moments.